08/31/2003 11:00PM

Halfbridled the total package


NEW YORK - It's tough to pinpoint exactly when it happens, but it is around this time of year when the 2-year-olds who were more precocious than talented are surpassed by the 2-year-olds who are more talented than precocious.

The two are not mutually exclusive. A case in point is Halfbridled, the best 2-year-old filly in the country. Halfbridled was precocious enough to win at first asking going 5 1/2 furlongs and make it 2 for 2 in Saturday's Del Dar Debutante. But, Halfbridled is also so obviously talented that it is clear she accomplished these victories despite having barely scratched the surface of her ability.

Halfbridled's career debut was really something to see. If you haven't seen it, it's worth viewing on racereplays.com. She exploded from last place and blew past her opponents as if they were tethered to

the eighth pole. What made Halfbridled's first start all the more exciting is that a daughter of Unbridled and a Deputy Minister mare wasn't supposed to win that way - not that early in the season and not going that short.

Well, Halfbridled got more distance in the Debutante - seven furlongs, to be precise - and the only upset is she didn't pay $3.20 to win rather than $5.20. Instead, the role of 3-5 favorite went to Victory U. S. A., and that was understandable. Victory U. S. A. was also a lengthy winner of her first race, earlier in the Del Mar meet, and also has a distance-oriented pedigree. Plus, she's trained by Bob Baffert, whose horses are always strongly bet, and she looked like the main speed of the race. Victory U. S. A. didn't make the lead, as Wind Flow took the track early from her. But, it wouldn't have mattered if Victory U. S. A. had been given a three-length head start, because no one was going to beat Halfbridled. Halfbridled showed dramatically improved early foot compared to her debut, stalking the paceand making two separate moves while locked in on the rail, and yet she still ran off to win by as many as she wanted, which in this instance was five lengths.

So, Halfbridled, who, frighteningly enough, figures to become only more effective as the distances increase, seems to be a textbook illustration that precocity and talent can come in the same package.

Patience could pay for Ziadie

The story of Saturday's Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga seemed to be a different, albeit more conventional one. At the distance of seven furlongs, which is certainly more telling than six furlongs or less, the sprint-bred early-season sensation was overcome by the distance-bred late developer. In this case, the precocious one was Chapel Royal, a son of Montbrook, from a Cutlass mare, who won his first three starts - at five, five, and six furlongs, the last two stakes - by farther than Brett Favre can throw a football. Nevertheless, the punch Chapel Royal had previously demonstrated was missing Saturday. Chapel Royal was powerless to resist Silver Wagon in the final furlong, giving strong reason for the suspicion that maybe he has already shown us his best.

While it is true that the 3-5 Chapel Royal was four wide around the track, his people smartly refused to use that as an excuse. Silver Wagon didn't save much more ground and had no trouble putting four lengths between himself and Chapel Royal in the final furlong.

Silver Wagon is a prime example of a 2-year-old whose talent comes to the fore with racing and distance. By Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Wagon Limit, Silver Wagon ran out of race track going 6 1/2 furlongs when second in his debut at Calder, but he romped over maidens at the Hopeful distance early in the Saratoga meet. The only reason why Silver Wagon was 12-1 Saturday is because the time of his maiden win wasn't fast.

Unfortunately for us, just as Silver Wagon is putting it all together, he is going underground, until December at the earliest. Then again, you can't fault trainer Ralph Ziadie for trying this approach with a young colt he believes has all of his best races still in front of him. As Steven Crist pointed out in his Saturday column, the last Hopeful winner to win the Kentucky Derby the following year was Affirmed 26 years ago.

Aldebaran best at what he does

Of course, racing life is not over for those who have distance limitations, as evidenced by Aldebaran. Aldebaran may be an older horse who doesn't want to do much else than go seven furlongs or a mile, but he cemented his status as the best horse in the country at what he does with a terrific performance in winning Sunday's Forego Handicap at Saratoga.

And, even though Aldebaran made it look easy in the Forego, scoring by nearly five lengths, it couldn't have been as easy as it looked. He not only had to deal with quality opposition, he also had the huge responsibility of halting an uncharacteristic deep slump from the Bobby Frankel barn. With the way Aldebaran ran, consider that slump over.